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2 posts from May 2011


The end is near...

IMG_6787 Name: Lucie
Activities and Volunteer Coordinator CIEE Amsterdam
Semester: Spring 2011

Well, at least the end of my semester working for CIEE Amsterdam. It is crazy how fast time went by, but it was a great experience. It was my job to make sure all our students would see more than the city centre of Amsterdam and some European capitals. This is why I have organized day trips to all the corners of the country, and even a weekend trip to a real Dutch Island with a really difficult name: I was so proud when most of the students could actually pronounce ‘Schiermonnikoog’ after a few days of mudflat hiking, kiting, bike riding and barbecuing on this tiny Island! I think it was my most favourite activity since I had a lot of time to sit down with the students to get to know them. The 45 students that I have met during this past semester were a really important part of why I loved my job!

Lucie blog 1

Our day trip to Utrecht is another event that I will never forget. We started the day by visiting a Dutch castle, and we ended it on a canal bike while showing the city that I have grown up in. I have really enjoyed showing the students what the Netherlands has to offer, and it made me look at my own country in a different way. And although most students have a mixed feeling about having to leave this country, don’t forget that wherever you are, there is beauty!

Lucie blog 2


A student says goodbye to the Regenboog (Rainbow) CIEE Amsterdam

Today was my first official tot ziens (goodbye) in Amsterdam. Since February, I have been joining a group of formerly homeless people every week at De Regenboog (or “The Rainbow,” a shelter) to make crafts from recycled materials. I didn’t go because I thought it was about service or giving back. My weekly trips to De Regenboog became a time for me to relax and share with friends—not to be a volunteer with the homeless, or the needy, or anything with a judging label--just a time to spend with fellow people.

There are so many things I love about the Decycle project at De Regenboog. First of all, it demonstrates to me how much help and social programming the Dutch government provides for its homeless. I honestly wouldn’t know that the people there were homeless, except when I noticed little things. For instance, they’d wear the same clothes every week, or they’d ask to take a look at my camera because they hadn’t seen one that nice. From what I could understand, the people I worked with used to go to the shelter and slowly became introduced to the Decylce program, which helped get them on their feet and paid them. We sold the crafts we made at a shop in Amsterdam, and the profits went right back into the program. Andre and Sean told me that there are a lot of homeless people in the Netherlands, but I haven’t once seen someone begging or sleeping outside. People could come to De Regenboog to get a change of clean clothes, take a shower, and eat some real decent food—not just soup. The shelter also had a program for people to come and paint or draw as a form of therapy. On Thursdays when I went, though, the downstairs was closed, so it was usually just Sean, Sarah, Andre, Hans, and me making things upstairs.

We made journals out of recycled flour bags and cereal boxes. We made purses and belts out of used bicycle tires. We made jewelry out of empty coffee bags. It wasn’t just fun for me because I like to be make things. I also enjoyed learning the craft from the people there. Their creativity and attention to detail inspired me. They also humored me when I tried to make new things, and I appreciated their encouragement.

After the first couple weeks, the other workers didn’t just chat with me. They really talked to me, and that is really why I looked forward to coming every early Thursday morning. Sean made sure I knew all about Queen’s Day and the Ajax, Amsterdam’s football team.  He also told me about how he was homeless for seven years, and that amount of time was much too long. He shared how he would only drink twice a year because he had an alcohol problem and wasn’t good at having just one beer. He shared how he worked very hard to clean his apartment, cook for himself everyday, and overcome the influences of his friends, who asked him to go smoke and to let them sleep in his house during the cold winter. “Gasoline for the heater is getting expensive now with all the violence in the Middle East,” he’d tell me. “But I can manage,” he’d say. I hoped he was right.

Andre told me about how much he loved music and how he had huge speaker set at home. He always impressed me with his knowledge of different artists. As we would listen to the radio he’d ask , “Do you know of Allanis Morissette? Meatloaf? Aerosmith?I like them. I like this song,” he’d say. Other days he’d tell me about how he went to jail in his twenties because he used do drugs, but he’s been out for a while. He had cancer, too, he told me nonchalantly, but he’s better now. “Now, I’m forty-three,” he’d tell me. “I’m getting old.”

“Forty-three’s not old,” I’d say in my polite American way.

Sarah was mostly quiet, but when we chatted, she always smiled and joked with me. She showed me how to use the sewing machine and how to make the journals look professional. “Do you like Amstel or Heineken?” she’d ask with a wink. “Yah, they are good.” Then her eyes would sink in. “But every day is too much. I see my friends have five, ten, beers sometimes, everyday. That’s too much. You don’t remember,” she’d told me. 

And Hans. Hans was in his sixties and biked forty minutes everyday to get to De Regenboog. He was “in charge.” He didn’t speak English very well but tried so hard to communicate with me. We had fun teaching each other words. I honestly only attempted to learn Dutch for him. He got so excited when I said something right or at least tried. “Goedemorgen! Hoe gaat het met je?” I’d greet him in the morning. “Tot volgende week!” I’d say as I left. I absolutely butchered the pronunciation, but he helped me with it. Hans was one of the only people I met to who spoke back to me in Dutch to help me learn. Most other people just use English. “You are getting better,” he’d tell me. On my second to last week he stopped for a second and thought about what he wanted to say.  “I see now, you have grown,” he said timidly. I knew what he meant. I knew that in our time together he could tell how much I loved the Netherlands and that I had become more relaxed and more mature during my stay, even if I didn’t notice this growth. I can’t tell you how much his genuine compliment and observation meant to me.

Today we all talked about how I didn’t want to go home to America, and how I was going to miss Amsterdam and De Regenboog. “So you’ve enjoyed your stay, then?” Sarah asked. “Well, she doesn’t want to go back,” Sean chimed in. I smiled at them and told them about how Los Angeles was a huge city, so I wouldn’t be able to bike everywhere anymore and that would make me sad. “I’ll have to spend an hour sitting, inching in the car on the way to work,” I told them, as if my life were actually hard.

When it was time to leave, I told them all how much fun I had and how thankful I was to have spent time with them. “Dank je wel!” I said, meaning it more than probably any other time I had said it here. As I left, they each gave me the real Dutch goodbye—three kisses on the cheek—not a wave or a handshake. In that moment I knew we meant something to each other, and even if our paths will not be lucky enough to cross again, that will be enough. 

belts and purses made from bicycle tires
journals made from bread bags
materials for journals
Sarah and I
from left to right: Sean, me, Andre, Hans
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